It’s no secret that I love film, if you follow me on twitter or even have read any of my writing on this website it should be readily apparent how much I love film. But one of my love’s is something I don’t get to talk about often, that’s right……. I’m a theatre nerd. That’s right, I love going to the theatre, I love watching plays and musicals, and ever since it became the cultural phenomenon it is, I wanted to see Hamilton. The only downside, and perhaps the reason I don’t talk about my love of theatre as much, is that I rarely, if ever, have enough money to go see plays properly. At least in the UK, Hamilton had a ridiculous waiting period to even be able to buy tickets, so the opportunity had never arised. I also have a very weird thing about “music spoilers”, I absolutely categorically refuse to listen to the soundtrack of a musical (or anything for that matter) until I’ve seen it, for me the experience of a musical is neutered if not seen as a whole. After all, the songs aren’t performed statically, the choreography and production design is, for me, instrumental to the musical just as much as the songs are. So while I’ve had to wait for almost 5 years now, it’s meant that now that’s dropped on Disney Plus, I’ve finally been able to experience Hamilton in all its glory.
It’s a weird thing going into something so famous, with so little knowledge, both about the musical itself and the history surrounding the musical. I knew that the musical features PoC actors as the founding fathers, and that Alexander Hamilton was instrumental to the American Revolution. But Hamilton’s biggest strength is also its biggest weakness, which is it’s racial twist on history; by inverting the race of famous historical figures like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, it creates an interesting modern take on America’s independence. But this twist also fundamentally alters the structure of the musical by introducing influences from Hip-Hop and R&B as well as the expected showtune influences. It’s not only a great opportunity to highlight minority actors on the stage in a world that is predominantly filled with White leading roles. But one of the big issues with the musical, which has been pointed out by many, is it’s avoidance of the issue of Slavery. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also portrays Hamilton, isn’t afraid to show Hamilton as a morally grey character, he cheats on his wife, he strategizes and manipulates the political sphere to achieve his goals to the detriment of his contemporaries. But with this morally gray character, it feels unsatisfying that Miranda chose to omit the topic of slavery, as personally I think it could have been used to highlight that these “American Heroes” were complicit in the horrendous historical persecution of Black People in History. It’s a large oversight that leaves a sour taste as you watch these figures be largely praised and glorified for the birth of America, while withholding such important context to their wealth and power. This complaint is clearly one on a meta level, as it’s lack of presence in the musical doesn’t directly impact or effect what Miranda does in the musical, but more one to ponder when taking the work in a wider context of the political climate it was created in.
But in terms of what it actually covers in the musical, Miranda has created a fun and charming retelling of History. It relishes in its innovation, the variety of music styles create a dynamic feeling that runs throughout the run-time. The raps are impressive, the showtunes feel timeless, and the ensemble songs are pulled off with expert timing and cohesion. From the very start I was enamoured by the songs, there’s such versatility in the actors and music that makes it so infectious. The constant switch-ups in cadence and music creates a vibrant and textured series of songs that keep the story progressing while matching the emotions of the characters. Some of the lyricism is a bit weak at times, I must admit, with lyrics fitting together awkwardly some times, and the rhymes aren’t always the most solid, but largely they’re witty and clever. All of the actors deserve tremendous praise, from Miranda, to Leslie Odom Jr., to Daveed Diggs, Phillipa Soo, as well as the rest of the cast. But alongside the main cast, the backing dancers are simply top-notch, as well as the choreographer who organises the lavish sequences. The production design really excels in its simplicity, with a bare setting used for all the scenes with a spinning disk in the middle of the stage that really enhances the sequences through its use of movement and energy. When this design and choreography are combined it’s a near perfect fit, with clever movements to disguise the limitations of the set while everything that’s going on, such as the battles, the duels and all the political negotiations that happen in the story. The main cast blend seamlessly into the choreography, perfecting their mannerisms and movements across the stage elegantly, showing their own prowess and ability.
Is Hamilton perfect? No, I would say it definitely isn’t. The musical, and creator, have been the subject to a plethora of criticism that from my own understanding are totally justified and fair. But for what the musical does do, it’s clear to see why it became such an influential smash-hit on it’s release. This filmed version does an incredible job with the camerawork and editing to create an ultimate viewing experience where we get to see and feel every moment. I was surprised to find out it was three different performances, with pick-up shots too, edited into one sequence, as for the life of me, I couldn’t tell you when or where the switches occurred. If you’re a fan of musicals, and interested in Hamilton, this broadcast is the perfect opportunity to experience the show.